“Folks, I have some good news and I have some bad news” the pilot announced. “We have landed in Atlanta way early, but there is a plane at our gate and it will be about 20 minutes before they move.” Throughout the plane you could hear the moans and comments about the airline’s inability to do anything right. These complaints normally come from what I call the “amateur traveler”, people who infrequently subject themselves to the vagaries of public transport. Their disappointment with the system stems from many of the same roots that plague our interactions with project stakeholders.
- Lack of subject matter expertise – If you don’t travel 30-40 weeks a year you can’t really understand how things average out over the long haul. Sometimes you land early and don’t get a gate. Sometimes you land late, but your connection is also late and you still make your flight. Many stakeholders have infrequent involvement with a small number of projects and think that only they suffer variances from plan. This leads to:
- Overlooking good performance – In fact, professional project managers recognize that all projects face challenges and for every one that seems “snakebit” there is another one proceeding quite smoothly. We tend to remember the exceptionally bad projects at the expense of the good. When trading travel stories I tell about the 42 hour/5 flight/2 redeye debacle of a return from Australia that my wife experienced. I don’t think to mention the times that an unexpected upgrade and attentive crew dropped into my lap and made an arduous journey bearable. This leads to:
- Unrealistic expectations – Many organizations applaud those projects that are under budget and ahead of schedule without regard to how it was accomplished. That state might be achieved by sacrificing quality, sandbagging the estimate, or shading the status of a project. In effect they are incenting poor behavior for an undesirable goal. Finishing early with money left over just means that other opportunities may have been sacrificed and other efforts might have to be re-planned. Perfect performance is getting as close to the target as possible.
After finally arriving at our gate the jetway driver was having trouble, causing some people to try to shout directions through a soundproofed fuselage. Being on a small plane meant that we had to wait for our “pink tagged” bags at the elevator at the top of the incline. There was some delay in delivery and the griping about the airline, the unions, and our late arrival continued. I finally asked the crowd “what was our published arrival time?” Someone said 10:30. A ding signaled the arrival of our luggage.
I looked at my watch… 10:30.